Do you enjoy looking at the cartoons in The New Yorker? Have you ever puzzled over just what makes a cartoon from The New Yorker superior to nearly any other cartoon you have ever seen? Have you ever had a secret fantasy to get a cartoon published in The New Yorker? If you would like answers to any of those questions, take a look at Bob Mankoff’s autobiography/history of cartooning/analysis of cartoon humor in general and The New Yorker cartoon humor in particular in this thoroughly entertaining book, How About Never – Is Never Good for You?
Mankoff was a cartoonist for the magazine years before he became the cartoon editor, probably the best job a person could ever have. He came into the editing position during the Tina Brown years and has stayed on ever since, adding editing to his other two jobs of cartooning for the magazine and of managing the Cartoon Bank, a database of cartoons submitted to The New Yorker, making them available for reuse by the public. His wit and energy move the reader through a short autobiography of the author, noting how he aspired to be a cartoonist for The New Yorker and what it took him to get there. He does in fact explore also a brief history of cartooning, and from there he analyzes just what makes a cartoon from The New Yorker funny. What is that humor, anyway? Subtle but not too subtle, sophisticated but prone to silliness, never too obscure, the cartoons do demand some thought. And if you don’t get it, well, Mankoff may not have gotten it either before editing suggestions. He looks at the signature cartoon humor in the larger culture, as, for example, when Elaine of Seinfeld strives to get a published cartoon explained to her and then tries valiantly to get her own cartoon accepted for publication. Finally, Mankoff offers hints on how to win at the ever popular Caption Contest, held weekly for aspiring humorists.
The book is packed with cartoon examples, giving readers a chance to savor some of the best published. By the way, the title, if you don’t recognize it, is the caption from Mankoff’s most famous cartoon of a man trying to set up a business engagement. Full of laughs, this book will quite possibly make you want to see more volumes of cartoons from that venerable publication, The New Yorker.
D. L. S.